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Higher Ed

San Jose State president to resign after investigation into athlete sex abuse allegations

Mary Papazian announced her resignation after the Justice Department’s findings that the university violated Title IX over sexual abuse allegations against a former athletic trainer.

San Jose State University President Mary Papazian will resign at the end of the fall semester, an announcement that comes two weeks after the Department of Justice released findings over the university’s failure to properly address allegations of sexual abuse by a former athletic trainer.

The university agreed to pay $1.6 million in late September to more than a dozen female athletes as part of its settlement with the Justice Department, which found the university in violation of Title IX — the civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at any federally funded education program.

The university failed to take adequate action in response to athletes’ reported allegations, which surfaced in 2009, and retaliated against two employees who raised repeated concerns over the then-director of sports medicine, Scott Shaw, the report said.

Papazian stepped in as president in 2016 and launched an investigation into the allegations against Shaw in 2019. She has received criticism over her administration’s handling of the investigation by outside groups as well as the Justice Department.

“On September 25, after thoughtful consideration and discussions with my family, I made the decision to step away as president of San José State University at the end of the fall semester. I truly love this university and believe this choice will allow the focus going forward to be on our talented, diverse, and outstanding campus,” Papazian wrote in a letter to the community, adding that she will continue to participate in the external investigations. An FBI investigation related to the allegations is ongoing.

Attorney Shounak Dharap of the San Francisco-based Arns Law Firm, which represents 15 former student athletes from San Jose State, said Papazian’s resignation was a step toward accountability.

“From the very beginning, the brave women we represent have fought to make sure that no future SJSU student athlete will ever have to face the same violations they did — violations of their bodily autonomy, their rights and their trust,” Dharap told The Times. “President Papazian’s resignation indicates that, after over a decade, SJSU’s administration may finally be prepared to accept accountability and begin the process of reform and remediation.

Allegations against the former trainer Shaw surfaced seven years ago when several student athletes reported to an employee that the trainer had touched their breasts, genitals and buttocks during treatment that was described to them as “trigger-point therapy” or “pressure-point therapy,” according to the report.

A student made a similar allegation as recently as February 2020.

Shaw, who resigned from the university in 2020, has not been criminally charged and has previously denied allegations, according to multiple news outlets.

California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro will meet with campus officials before the Cal State Board of Trustees launches its search for the university’s 31st president.

“President Papazian’s decision to resign from the presidency reflects her compassionate leadership,” Castro said in a statement. “While professionally and personally difficult, this step demonstrates her commitment to the university moving forward.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.